Pride Will Kill Me

A simple word from the Lord this morning has penetrated the depths of my heart, and it comes in the form of one short phrase: Pride will kill me.

Warnings in Scripture are easy to pass over for Christians. We read oracles of judgment in the Prophets or warnings of judgment in the Psalms and use the cross of Christ as a crutch to limp past these warnings without even pausing to consider their merit and weight. I know when I read warning passages, I am quick to remind myself of context. “This warning was for the Israelites.” “I don’t have to worry about that warning of judgment because Christ was judged in my place.” Sometimes our narrow understanding and view of the gospel can impede our growth in the gospel.

While more knowledge of the gospel should also play a part in producing spiritual growth in and through us, when that knowledge is limited only to one benefit of the gospel, our knowledge can work against us. Justification is a beautiful doctrine. It is our declared righteousness before God as a gift of God’s grace through the propitiation of Christ. We receive full pardon not through our works, but through Christ’s. God bestows an unfathomable gift of grace in justification, and we reach out our hands and receive it through faith.

But justification is just one jewel in the crown of salvation. It’s honestly just one step. Justification isn’t the end of the gospel’s benefits. It’s the beginning. Justification always enables and leads to sanctification, which ends in glorification. When warning passages are interpreted solely through the lens of justification, they’ll be ignored, passed over, and trapped in an ancient Israelite context.

When we take a step back and view Old Testament warning passages for what they are and understanding that we are not merely justified, but in the process of being sanctified, we will be able to receive and benefit from serious warnings.

Back to the warning I received this morning from the Lord. Pride will kill you. Psalm 52 is a warning that the Lord hates and judges pride. Letting pride fester and grow in your heart will end in destruction, banishment, desolation, sorrow, and emptiness. Pride destroys a man. Pride flows from the heart to the tongue. Pride is evil and does evil. Pride inverts the way of God. God opposes the proud. He judges the proud. He brings them down. Rebellion against God is the fruit of pride. Banishment from God is the punishment for pride. Pride will kill you. When it does, here is your eulogy:

Here is the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, taking refuge in his destructive behavior. – Psalm 52:7

So, be warned, as I was this morning. If we ignore the pride in us, it will grow. It will dominate our lives. It will be demonstrated in our speech. We will be characterized by pride to the point that our eulogy will be that of Psalm 52:7.

Pride refuses to recognize God as the supreme provider and treasure. Pride is trusting in lesser treasure to provide greater pleasure. I see it in Adam. I see it in Israel. I see it in the church. I see it in me. I pray my family will be able to say the opposite is true of me. I’m praying the Lord would deepen my trust and joy in him. I’m praying he would help me kill pride before it kills me. And I am confident he will because pride was dealt a death blow in the humility of the cross.

May our boast be in the Lord! He has caused us to flourish in his Son and through his Spirit. May we trust in his faithful love forever. My we praise him forever for what he has done. May we put our hope in his name, for it is good.

19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.


Morning Mashup 09/30


A Quick and Easy Guide to the Planned Parenthood Videos – Shameful silence from the mainstream media. Mollie Hemingway helps them do their jobs.

I Don’t Want Your Good Vibes. I Want Prayer. – Megan Hill: “There’s no substitute for our communion with the Father.”

Speak for the Unborn Leader Pleads for Life – Great look at the work of Andrew King and Speak for the Unborn.

Every Living Thing Matters – “The Every Living Thing Campaign invites Christians to celebrate the wonder and beauty of God’s creation and commit to compassionate living by signing the Evangelical Statement on Responsible Care for Animals.”

Lies, Carly Fiorina and Abortion – Ross Douthat: “There has been an impressive amount of angry liberal commentary, which has spilled over into the mainstream press coverage (or do I repeat myself?) of the issue, about how in the last Republican presidential debate Carly Fiorina allegedly cited an entirely imaginary video in order to make a crazy claim about Planned Parenthood’s brain-harvesting ghoulishness that’s totally unsupported by the facts.”

Pope Francis Met Privately with Kim Davis – “The Pope met privately with Kim Davis and her husband, Joe, at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C.”

Chipotle Church and the Problem of Choice – Brett McCracken: “Imagine if God were as fickle and restless as we are. But he isn’t. God’s covenant faithfulness to his people, even when the relationship is messy and embarrassing, should be instructive to us. A healthy relationship with the local church is like a healthy marriage: it only works when grounded in selfless commitment and non-consumerist covenant.”

When You Get Home…? – Consider asking your spouse what they want in those first few minutes you get home from work.

4 Tips for Using a Study Bible Well – Helpful article from Justin Taylor. If you use a study Bible, be sure to check it out.

If a preacher isn’t first preaching to himself, better that he falls on the pulpit steps and breaks his neck than preach that sermon. –John Calvin

What Do I Do When I Get Distracted During Bible Study and Prayer?


One of the greatest hindrances to meaningful Bible study and communion with God is distraction. Subtle distractions inhibit communion with God so much so that one would think they are Satan’s favorite devices to use against the soul.

We all know how this works. We have it all planned out. We sit down to read and study the Bible or pray with music playing in the background. We go into our study or sit up in bed just as the sun rises. Picture perfect. Then, somewhere in the middle of our Bible study or prayer, we start thinking about other things, both important and trivial. We start reading Romans 3 and then think about that phone call we need to make later in the day. We begin, “Father, may you make your name great in all the earth…” only to start thinking about what’s for dinner. By the time we finish reading or praying, we have resolved to do more in our day than we have resolved to respond to God’s Word. Our minds and hearts are battlefields with distractions on one side fighting against holy desires and affections on the other.

While distractions definitely present major problems for our personal communion with God, I believe it is the way we respond to them that dictate their effect on us. Distractions become destructive when we give up. Living as a Christian in a fallen world with a flesh still tainted by our first parents’ sin automatically places the redeemed in a hostile war. So, we must fight sin, temptation, and all distractions with all of our grace-empowered might.

So, when you sit down at your study or in your favorite chair to seek joy in communion with God in his Word and in prayer, and thoughts from work creep in your mind; or the baby starts crying; or tempting and sinful thoughts enter your mind, what are you to do? Cry out to the God with whom you have sat down to commune with. Cry out in sheer honesty and desperation. Trusting God for his sufficiency to trump your deficiencies is both glorifying to God and delightful for you. Trust God to still your mind. You will be communing with God in your fight to better commune with God! Oh, how God-centered one must be to commune with the God of the universe! You must rely on God’s grace to fight for the disciplined practice the Christian duties of Bible study and prayer.

I know I have been on a John Flavel kick recently, but I have been slowly meditating on every page of his incredibly rich and pastoral work Keeping the Heart. It has been a timely grace to my soul and Flavel has been like personal pastor walking with me day by day to urge me to greater Christlikeness. Heed these gracious and sobering words from Flavel.

When you are disturbed by vain thoughts, humble yourself before God, and call in assistance from heaven. When the messenger of Satan buffeted St. Paul by wicked suggestions, he mourned before God on account of it. Never slight wandering thoughts in duty as small matters; follow every such thought with a deep regret. Turn to God with such words as these: ‘Lord, I came hither to commune with thee, and here a busy adversary and a vain heart, conspiring together, have opposed me. Oh my God! What a heart have I! Shall I never wait upon thee without distraction? When shall I enjoy an hour of free communion with thee? Grant me thine assistance at this time; discover thy glory to me, and my heart will quickly be recovered. I came hither to enjoy thee, and shall I go away without thee? Behold my distress, and help me!’ Could you but sufficiently bewail your distractions, and repair to God for deliverance from them, you would gain relief (Keeping the Heart: How to Maintain Your Love for God, 79-80).

No Common Work: The Eternal Worth of Bible Study and Prayer


Christian duties such as Bible study, fasting, and prayer are often viewed as just another part of the Christian’s life. They are mere trivialities that, even when taken seriously, become time-sucking leeches to us. This is why even thinking about spending significant and intentional time in Bible study and prayer is exhausting.

In the fast food, fast banking, fast everything world we live in, efficiency is king. We want to get as much done as we possibly can, in as little time as we possibly can. And boy do we have a lot to do. Our jobs, families, and hobbies demand the majority of the hours that we have to give in a day. When it comes to our faith, our Christianity, our relationship with God, we view such duties as Bible study and prayer as just two more boxes to check off our to-do lists. When we view Bible study and prayer in this way, we will inevitably either drop them entirely or make them a minuscule part of our lives. Five minute devotion here. Two minute prayer there. Seriously, we just don’t have time for more. And what’s worse is that we use our justification as…well…justification. We justify our lack of Bible study and prayer with our justification. We argue that since our justification is not dependent on our works, but rather on Christ’s work, being overly concerned with works such as Bible study and prayer is unimportant at least, and legalistic at most.

If this is you, and recently this has been me, I want to encourage you (and myself) to drop the antinomian attitude and pick up your Bible. While justification must never be confused with sanctification, we must remember that true justification always leads to sanctification. If you are right with God, you will continue to grow in holiness and righteousness. I want to encourage you at the beginning of this week to resolve to open your Bible and read, and get on your knees and pray. It is through these delightful duties that the Christian grows in Christlikeness and learns how to glorify and enjoy God forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 2). If you need a satisfying quench from the hustle and bustle of your crazy busy life at work, home, and play, then look no further than those Christian duties you so easily push to the side as begrudging works.

The question then becomes “How do I get my heart and mind adjusted to be able to read and pray?” This is an honest question that my wife and I have each been struggling with. Do we want to resolve to pick our Bibles and get on our knees in prayer? Yes, absolutely! However, after a long day of classes and a long day of teaching, how do we even get in the proper mindset to carry out these Christian duties of grace? This question is important because it is important to be in the right state of mind and the right attitude of heart before entering into the presence of God through Bible study and prayer. The thought that has soothed my heart as I think about how to carry this out is the eternality of communion with God. Matters that far surpass the job you are about to go to, the size of your bank account, and the fight you just had with your spouse are at hand when you open your Bible and get on your knees in prayer. While everything you do in your day may be temporal, these Christian duties are not. The Word of God is eternal and so is the communion you enjoy with God through prayer.

These are major graces and duties set on an eternally glorious scale. Puritan John Flavel picked up on the uniqueness of what he calls the “duties” of Christianity like Bible study and prayer. If your mind and heart do not seem to be right when you think about opening your Bible today, let the words that follow correct your erroneous thoughts and attitudes as they have mine:

When you go to God in any duty, take your heart aside and say, ‘Oh my soul, I am now engaged in the greatest work that a creature was ever employed about; I am going into the awful presence of God upon business of everlasting moment. Oh my soul, leave trifling now; be composed, be watchful, be serious; this is no common work, it is soul-work; it is work for eternity; it is work which will bring forth fruit to life or death in the world to come.’ Pause awhile and consider your sins, your wants, your troubles; keep your thoughts awhile on these before your address yourself to duty. David first mused, and then spake with his tongue (Keeping the Heart: How to Maintain Your Love for God, pp. 75-76).

Morning Mashup 11/25


7 Ways for Christians to Love Their Neighbors Even When We Disagree – Pastor Mark Driscoll writes this post for Fox News as he reflects on the recent Pride Parade in Seattle. He gives seven helpful ways to love those we disagree with, while avoiding two dangerous ditches–not calling sin, sin, and waging culture wars while ignoring evangelism.

Inerrant Text Does Not Equal Inerrant Interpretation – An important article on the inerrancy of Scripture and how Christians should approach the Bible. Derek Rishmawy writes, “[T]he higher a view of the text you affirm, the more it should lead to real struggling with the text, given that you think it’s the truth of God somehow.”

More Than Just Raking – David Mathis writes on the joy of digging for diamonds in Bible study. We need to strive for both depth and breadth when we study the Bible. Mathis says it well, “Without raking, we won’t have enough sense of the landscape to dig in the right places. And without digging, and making sure the banner of our theology is securely tethered to specific biblical sentences and paragraphs, our resources will soon dry up for feeding our souls with various textures and tastes.”

Brothers, We Are Not CEOs – Philip Duncanson from The Front Porch writes about the balance pastors need when it comes to social issues. He warns of the dangers of the “social gospel,” and though this is directed at primarily black churches, all pastors can learn from this warning from Duncanson.

Gratitude: It’s More Than a Feeling – Dan Darling discusses how the themes of Thanksgiving are “central to the gospel narrative.” He writes, “Gratitude is a sentiment at the heart of redemption. For it was ingratitude, we are told, that was the match that lit the sin fuse that plunged the world into darkness and evil.” This is a very helpful article in thinking about Thanksgiving this week.

During the Holidays, My Hope Comes from the Lord – While this time of year is usually filled with joy and laughter, these are often coupled with sorrow and tears. For those of us who have lost loved ones, the gathering of family only highlights their absence. If this is you (and this is me), this article will be a grace to you. Per usual, Trillia Newbell is highly poignant and practical.

[The sovereignty of God] is the rock that rises for us out of the flood of uncertainty and confusion. It is the eye of the hurricane where we stand with God and look up into the blue sky of his mastery when everything is being destroyed. —John Piper



Why Study the Old Testament?

BibleMany believers question how the Old Testament could possibly be beneficial or edifying for them. They argue that in the Old Testament, Jesus had not yet come and since it is recorded like a long historical drama filled with confusing names of people and places, the Old Testament is simply irrelevant. Since we are new covenant people, shouldn’t we primarily focus on the New Testament? And more seeker-friendly pastors and Christians simply do not see the relevance of the Old Testament. How would someone visiting your church feel if they came in on a random Sunday and heard about the Israelites and the Moabites? How could this possibly help them with the daily struggles of their lives? What does Israel have to do with 21st century Christians? And maybe a more crucial question, What is the value of the Old Testament? Or to use the language of the day, What is the relevance of the Old Testament?

All Scripture is God-Breathed

An answer can be found in 2 Timothy 3:16. Paul gives Timothy some final exhortations as his death is imminent and not far away. In this letter, Paul warns Timothy of the danger of false teachers and urges him to continue in the faith (2 Tim. 3:14). One thing Timothy is to continue in is “all Scripture” which is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16, NIV). But what did Paul mean by “all Scripture?” I contend that Paul is solely referring to the Old Testament in this context, though I leave open the possibility that he may have been referring to the teachings of Christ and even his own writings. Regardless, Paul was not directly referring to the New Testament as we know it today as it had not all been written at the time of the writing of 2 Timothy. This does not imply that the New Testament is not God-breathed. I think one can easily argue for the divine inspiration of Scripture as an implication from 2 Timothy 3:16 and from other passages in Scripture as well.

The Old Testament Too

But what is important for this discussion is that Paul compels Timothy to continue in the faith by continuing in the God-breathed Old Testament. It was the Old Testament that Timothy’s mother and grandmother had taught him from childhood (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). The Greek word for “Scripture” is used 51 times in the New Testament and every single occurrence refers to the Old Testament. The Old Testament was Jesus’ Bible and he quoted from it often, even saying that its central message was about him (Luke 24:27, 44)! So, Paul intends to communicate that the Old Testament is God-breathed and profitable for his sanctification. The Old Testament is sufficient for Timothy’s holiness. In other words, Timothy can become like Christ by continuing in the reading, study, and meditation of the Old Testament. Needless to say, Paul considers the Old Testament to be slightly important and relevant for the Christian. Simply put, the Old Testament is relevant because it is God’s Word.

All Scripture

You may agree that certain passages of the Old Testament have helped you in your walk with Christ. And I am certain that you agree that the Old Testament is important and beneficial. But Paul adds one word that I think is most striking in this passage. The word “all” is like a tiny arrow that pierces our post-modern church culture that calls for practical advice from the pulpit and riots against Old Testament passages that seem irrelevant. The Greek word for “all” can be just as easily and correctly translated as “every” in this passage. So, Paul is saying, “Timothy, every single portion of Scripture is from God and it is for your good!” It is not just a portion of the Old Testament that Paul commends to Timothy. It isn’t just those epic stories or the monumental figures and events that serve as types of the Christ who was to come that Paul commends to young Timothy. No, Paul says that it is all Scripture, the entire Old Testament, that is breathed out by God and profitable.

This is so crucial for us today. We can be so guilty of minimizing the importance of the Old Testament. Because of cultural differences between the original authors and us, we often simply ignore the reading, study, and preaching of many Old Testament texts. The Old Testament is not just a collection of cool stories to entertain our children in Sunday school or to provoke us to speculate how tall Goliath really was or just how big the fish was that swallowed Jonah. The Old Testament is authoritative and God-breathed Scripture that is sufficient for our sanctification and should hold a place of supremacy in our lives.

All of the Old Testament is God-breathed and profitable. All of the genealogies. All of the gruesome battle descriptions. All of the names that are so difficult to pronounce. All of the Law. All of the imagery of the prophets. All of the poetry of the psalmists. All of the suffering of Job. All real. All inspired. All authoritative. Scripture does not glean its authority from our capacity to understand it and it is not waiting for our finite and sin-ridden approval. We do not give Scripture relevance, God does. Scripture gleans its authority from the One who spoke it. Therefore, because of its divine nature and sufficient function, the Old Testament is worthy of our study.

No Text Can Be Ignored

This impacts our preaching and Bible study. We should not only preach or study the four Gospels. We should not only preach or study the New Testament. Instead, recognizing that all Scripture is God-breathed, we must give ourselves to the preaching and reading and studying of both testaments, all 66 writings. If the pastor asks you to turn to Ezra or a Psalm or Leviticus, do not turn him off and think a discussion of Old Testament sacrifices does not impact your life. If your daily reading is in Deuteronomy or 2 Chronicles, do not blow it off as irrelevant. Reading two lines out of Leviticus or two pages of genealogies out of Nehemiah will do more for your soul than reading an entire book written by C.S. Lewis or J.K. Rowling because Leviticus and Nehemiah have the imprint of God himself.

We are not at liberty to pick and choose to obey only those passages that agree with our finite philosophies or wishes. Scripture is not subject to our will, but rather to the will of the one from whom it is breathed out! All Scripture is from the Spirit of God and because of this it is all holy and good and true. This means that when we come to difficult passages, we do not have the option to disregard it or deny it, for when we do so, we are denying God himself. It is therefore important to learn how to study the Bible. Yes, you want to wield a sword when an enemy attacks you, but if you do not know how to wield it correctly, you are great risk of maiming yourself. In the same way, if we do not know how to properly wield the Sword of Truth, we will only be maiming our souls.

Read the Old Testament for God’s Glory

For the sake of your satisfaction and sanctification, dive into the Old Testament. Know that I understand the difficulty that comes with reading, studying, and interpreting the Old Testament. There are thousands of years of cultural and linguistic differences to account for. This is where good resources come in handy. To read the Old Testament for the glory of God is to read it and understand it correctly. This will take work and some digging. But know that you are digging for priceless diamonds and the work will be delightful rather than begrudging.

For helps on understanding cultural differences, seeing Christ in the Old Testament, and better understanding the overall theme, storyline, and theology of Scripture check out these resources. I believe these aids will help you better understand the Old Testament:

Encountering the Old Testament: A Christian Survey by Bill Arnold and Bryan Beyer

An Introduction to the Old Testament by Tremper Longman III

What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible by Jason DeRouchie

An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach by Bruce Waltke with Chalres Yu

A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New by G.K. Beale

Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum

The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments by Thomas Schreiner

God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology by Jim Hamilton

Tough Topics: A Biblical-Theological Bible Study

Tough TopicsI have been itching and craving to lead another Bible study for a while now. This has been a tremendously busy (though exceedingly joyful) six months for Erica and me as she has graduated from college, we married, and now are adjusting to married life and preparing for an uncertain Fall. However, this desire to lead another Bible study has welled up in my soul and it is about to overflow.

After looking over a number of different topics, books, and themes, I have decided along with Erica’s invaluable help to teach a Bible study that deals with difficult questions. Most Bible studies deal with a major topic or lead you through a book of the Bible and those studies are valuable in their own right. However, so often we leave those Bible studies with questions that they simply do not have time to answer. Also, day in and day out we are living in a world that is marred by sin and saturated with suffering. Innumerable questions about life arise and most Christians and even pastors do not dare approach them. Hard questions. Tough topics. Questions about life, God, Christianity, and the Bible that you would love to know the answer to. I fear too many people leave Bible studies with questions that they are too afraid to ask. Too many Christians read a passage, get confused about a tough topic, and just leave it at that. Is it enough to answer with “I don’t know” or “maybe”? I fully believe that we should speak where the Bible speaks and stay silent where the Bible stays silent. However, we can through sound biblical and systematic theology give accurate and sufficient answers to some of life’s toughest questions.

Here is a list of a few questions we will be probing in this study:

  • Does God hate sinners?
  • Does God change his mind?
  • Could Jesus have sinned? If so, then how is he divine? If not, then can we really consider him a man?
  • Will people be condemned for not believing in Jesus even if they have never heard of him or his gospel?
  • What is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?
  • What can we know about angels? Demons? Satan?
  • What happens to infants when they die? Is there an age of accountability?
  • Can you lose your salvation?
  • Can you leave the faith?
  • Are miraculous gifts for today?
  • What about speaking in tongues?
  • Does God love everyone in the exact same way?

These questions and more will take up our time for weeks upon weeks. My desire through this study is not to have a set time frame, such as a month-long or six-week long study. I want to take these questions, two per week, week by week, until our group is satisfied. We will add questions. More topics like divorce, remarriage, the content of the gospel, the necessity for Jesus’ death, etc. will be addressed. I pray this will be an edifying and humbling journey through the Word of God. I do not claim to have all of the answers, but by God’s grace I want to present what I believe his Word to say about each of the questions we ask. Each week will be a sober study with a spirit of humility, grace, and unabashed confidence in the Bible as we approach these tough topics. If there is anything I can guarantee you through this study, it is that you will become more spiritually mature by giving more detailed answers than “yes,” “no,” or “maybe” to these questions that so many people have. Also, I can assure you that if you commit yourself to this study, you will grow closer to God and your passions for him, desire for him, and affections for him will all be inflamed. Worship is the goal of this study. 

This Bible study will be meeting in London, KY. starting in July. An official starting date will be set once the number of group members is finalized. This study will be designed for students (both college and high school), but will be written on a level accessible to all ages. I am writing the material with the help of my wife Erica and invaluable resources that I will list below. The motivation for this Bible study comes from the reading of Sam Storms’ book, Tough Topics: Biblical Answers to 25 Challenging Questions. He has not produced a Bible study from this book, and he has no affiliation with the writing of this Bible study. However, ample credit and citation will be given in any materials I release. I am indebted to Sam Storms’ faithfulness to the Word, love for God, and his commitment to edify the saints. My thought and my answers are heavily influenced by Storms, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Michael Horton, Sinclair Ferguson, and others. This will be evident throughout this Bible study.

If you live in the London-Corbin-Williamsburg area, I would gladly invite you to join us on this journey to know God more through his Word and answer some of life’s hardest questions. If you are interested in joining this Bible study group, either comment on this blog post, email me at or contact me on Facebook or Twitter (@mat_gilbert). Also, in your message to me, include any difficult questions you have about life or the Bible that you have always wanted answered. We may examine it one night. If you want to think more than you have ever thought before and desire God more passionately than you ever have, join us!

Just a few resources we will use to prepare this study:

Tough Topics: Biblical Answers to 25 Challenging Questions

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Wayne Grudem)

Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Gregg Allison)

The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Michael Horton)

A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life

Saved by Grace

The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance

Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution

According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible

What is the Gospel?

For His Glory–For our Joy

Must Bible Reading Always End with Application?

In one of John Piper’s recent Ask Pastor John episodes, he is asked a question that I feel is common among Christians: “Must Bible reading always end with application?” I have at times struggled with this and have tried to force applications out of texts that may not be there. At times I have felt that if I do not leave my “quiet time” with something I can apply to my life, then I have failed. And to be transparent, I have failed many times. There are times I read and study and meditate for about an hour or so and leave with no immediate personal life application. Well, this is a no-no in youth class. I honestly believe that one reason I am this way is because I was always taught countless “life lessons” from texts of Scripture as a child and teen. I now see that most of these life lessons butchered the text itself and nearly broke the binding of the immediate context. Now, my teachers had great intentions, and so do I when I sit and mull over a text for hours searching for immediate life application, but in doing so we are in great danger of manipulating Scripture and doing poor hermeneutics (Bible interpretation).

But this doesn’t sound pretty and I have never been able to adequately explain why it is not necessary to always leave your Bible reading with a life application. I have just experienced this. I have indeed left a Bible study session in complete awe of God with my affections stirred toward him, while at the same time walking away without a tangible or set list of practical things to do for the day. And as I have matured in my Bible study, I must be honest, my to-do lists have shrunk nearly to the point of non-existence and yet I have never been so full of love and desire for God. Likewise, I am serving and loving others more than I ever have in my life and definitely more than when I made a daily to-do list of “life applications from Scripture.” But even with all this, I have struggled to articulate why this is good.

To this I defer to and am thankful for John Piper. His response is both insightful and helpful. I will be entering and leaving my BIble study tomorrow morning with a different perspective and I hope you will too.

Here are five basic insights from this episode of Ask Pastor John:

1. A godly life is lived out of an astonished heart.

2. We become what we behold.

3. Meditating on truth shapes the soul.

4. Become a loving person.

5. Do not amass a long list.

John Piper: Must Bible Reading Always End in Application?

Our Preeminent and Eternal God: Genesis 1-2; Matthew 1

Day One

Like many Christians throughout the world, today I began a new Bible reading plan. After much thought and discussion with my fiancé, who will be reading through the same plan, we decided to go through the Bible-Eater reading plan. Yeah, I did say in a previous post that I had narrowed it down to two different plans, but one look at the Bible-Eater plan changed my mind. And I mean, c’mon, it is by far the Bible reading plan with the coolest name. I feel like a real man when I read as I tell people with my chest puffed out, “Yeah, I’m using the Bible-Eater plan!” Ha. Okay, maybe I need to get out more. Nevertheless, this new macho plan began where most plans do—in Genesis. Actually, it also includes reading from Matthew as well, so I read two chapters in Genesis and one in Matthew. I was very glad to have read in Genesis today.

The Vitality of Genesis 1-2

Genesis 1-2, doctrinally, is vital to the Christian faith. We find the truth that God is eternal. We find the truth that God is the creator of all things. We can even affirm that everything he created and creates is good. We see that God is ultimately great and sovereign since as his voice spoke, creation obeyed. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). In fact, we see God doing something and it happening at least 21 times. In other words, we see “God said” or “And God said” or a particular action from God and it immediately happening. Genesis 1-2 is full of total obedience to the will and power of God as God does what he wants. Nothing enticed him to create the world. Out of his sovereignty and for the praise of his glory God created the world. There was no need for God to create the world, so in this we see not only God’s power to create the world, but also his divine sovereignty to do as he pleases. In fact he does whatever he wants (Psalm 115:3)! We see the pinnacle of creation as being God’s creation of man. This was because man was created in the very image of God. This teaches us how precious every life is and my mind begins to think about the horrors of abortion. It also leads us to understand why abortion and all other forms of murder are so appalling and offensive and sinful before God—because the life that you are ending has been created in the image of a holy God. We also see in Genesis 1-2 the truth that God created man as male and female and as a result of the creation of the woman from the man who was given to him as a helper, “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Marriage is defined by God in Genesis 2 as being between one man and one woman and this marriage relationship is meant to be for life. This is made abundantly clear as Jesus refers back to this infallible truth when he responds to the Pharisees concerning divorce (see Matthew 19). There are countless teachings and truths found in the first two chapters of the Bible. The most important to me is the focus on God. It is a great place to begin reading in this new year. I needed this reminder that the Bible and everything in my life is about God and not me.

Morning Meditation

As I studied this morning in these two chapters, there was one thing that struck my mind. The first half of the first verse of the Bible could be meditated on for ages to come. The joy I received from thinking about the God who was there “in the beginning” has yet to cease. I am walking on the clouds as I think about how this God of Genesis 1:1a chose me in his grace and saved me by the work and person Jesus Christ. I stand in awe of this God and I want to share a few of my meager thoughts that I jotted down as I meditated on the glory of God before creation.

January 1, 2013 @ 11:30 A.M.

“In the beginning, God” is a remarkable phrase. This affirms the eternality of God. This affirms and exalts the preeminence of God. He is first. When nothing was, he was (v. 2). What was this like? There was nothing but God. No earth. No universe. There was darkness over the earth after he created it, but what about before he created the earth. What about the first half of verse 1? What was that like? I imagine that it was perfectly joyous. There was perfect relationship between God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This perfect Trinitarian God has complete and total joy (Ps. 16:11). I imagine there being a light so bright that it is nothing like we have ever seen before. The light, which is the sun, was created by this God, which has eternally existed (v. 3-5). This greatest and brightest light is the glory of God.

“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” – Revelation 21:23

The New Jerusalem will have no need for a sun or a moon because God’s glory will light it and this light is greater than all the others to the point that there is no need for them. I cannot imagine this. What a statement! There is no need for this gargantuan of a star that lights the entire earth from 92,960,000 miles away since God will be there. Where God is, there is fullness of joy and the brightness of the light of his glory. God’s joy and glory are ultimate and maximum in his presence. So, before God created anything, there was nothing but God. How utterly perfect this must have been! 2 trillion times brighter and greater than the sun and 4 trillion times greater than the joy of a mother at the sight of her newborn child was and is in my Trinitarian God. And this perfect glory and perfect joy of God in the beginning will last forever. God’s glory and joy are eternal since he is eternal. “In the beginning God…” Wow! I see nothing but utter existence. God just existed as he always had (whatever that even means!) in perfect joy and perfect glory. God had all of his attributes before the world was made. Humans didn’t create God’s wrath or his love. His perfect character has existed as long as he has. Everything God is today, on Jan. 1, 2013, he always has been. What a thought! There are things that can alter our character for better and worse. However, nothing alters God’s. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). And he is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4).

God as Conductor and Creation as Orchestra

I envision creation as being an orchestra assembling on a stage. God is the conductor and each part of creation is a portion of the orchestra. I see God standing at the front of the stage facing the stage with no one there. It is just God on the stage and he is perfectly happy and joyous and glorious. Oh, and how this joy and glory must be exalted, praised, and shared. He will create an orchestra to do just that. First, he calls for the woodwinds and those musicians carrying the flutes, bassoons, oboes, and clarinets walk into position as soon as their conductor commands. Then comes the brass section with all of the trumpets, French horns, trombones, and tubas. The percussionists follow suit as they assemble into position when their conductor commands them. Finally, the best and most important part of the orchestra is assembled at the word of the conductor. The string section moves into position as each player with his or her violin, viola, cello, or stringed bass. Then, at the motion of the conductor’s baton, the symphony plays in perfect harmony. What a glorious sound this is. At the end of the performance, the conductor turns and takes a bow as the crowd praises him. This reminds me so much of God in creation. Each portion of creation comes on the scene and into existence only as God commands. The sun and moon exist when God commands them to exist. Each in their own turn, the sky, sun, moon, stars, plants, land, waters, universe, earth, and animals are created by God and obey his command. Then, the greatest part of God’s symphony takes its place. God creates man in his own image. This part of creation is the grandest because man is made not just by him, but also after him! This is the glorious string section of a wonderful and perfect symphony orchestra! “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). The Word says, “behold”! Pay attention to this: When God looked at this symphony of life and universe and matter and being that he had created, he saw that it was very good! The symphony performed beautifully together and the sound was harmonious and good. They played to the praise of the glory of God in which they were each in the presence of as God dwelled with them. Even man participated in this perfect harmony. All of this glory and joy and beauty makes me see even more clearly how nasty and appalling and belittling sin is to the glory of God. Sin robs God of glory and man of joy. Soon, the string section will make a sour note and cause the symphony to be cursed. While the rest of the orchestra will play beautifully as they always obey and praise their conductor, the strings (man) will choose to rob the conductor of his deserved glory and this will make a hideously sour series of notes from the Garden and into 21st century America.

Perfect Glory–Perfect Joy

The God of Genesis 1:1a (“In the beginning, God…”) is a glorious God who is full of perfect joy. This joy and glory overflowed into the creation of a grand universe and world filled with creatures who reflect his glory. The most amazing thing about it all is that God will manifest and reveal himself most fully to man a second time when he comes to dwell among us once again in the person Jesus Christ. And that is the glory of Matthew 1. God came to save sinners for the same purpose for which he created the world—for the praise and glory of his name! For his name’s sake, he saves us! And this salvation comes from the God who has always existed in perfect joy and in radiant glory!

How to Stay Committed to Your Bible Reading Plan

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! Many New Year resolutions have officially begun! I applaud each of you who have made resolutions for these are things in your mind and heart that you desire—that you are resolved to do in 2013. Now that you have established and confessed your convictions, it is time to carry them out. I pray that you haven’t simply blindly made resolutions without planning. I mean, who can resolve to eat healthier without planning what the next trip to the grocery will look like and which fast food restaurants will be cut from the diet? And who can resolve to get in shape without a workout plan or a gym membership? There is much planning to be done in carrying out these noble resolutions. I mean, can a 20-year smoker just quit cold turkey? Some, maybe, but most cannot. They need a plan to quit and it will be difficult requiring much discipline. The same is true for a resolution to read through the Bible in 2013. If you wish to do so, it will require a plan and much discipline. I have provided a list of multiple Bible reading plans that are very helpful for a wide variety of readers.

The Next Step–My Failure

Choosing a reading plan is merely step one. There are countless individuals who begin a reading plan—a good reading plan—but fall off the course by mid-January. Granted, there are faithful brothers and sisters who radically read through the Word each and every year. However, in my young Christian life, I have yet to do so. I have fallen off the horse and instead of getting back on, I just sat there and sulked in my unfaithfulness. Excuses began to spew out of my mouth. I complained that I needed at least two hours to study the Bible each day and just didn’t have time some days. While I had good intentions, I did nothing to fight the temptation to ignore God in his Word and make time. I should have woken up two hours earlier each morning or split up my reading and meditation time. I could have read throughout the day and then spent a focused 30 minutes studying and meditating on what I had read. The point is that I have given up all too quickly in my reading of the Word through a calendar year. I believe there are three methods I can take in 2013 to better combat the temptation to not read and to better equip myself to desire God in his Word and read each and every day pondering and meditating on the glorious splendor of God in Christ Jesus.

1. Be disciplined

Discipline is a vital factor in continuing to read throughout the year and giving up after just a couple of days. Now, the strong resolve that you have to read the Bible through 2013 may get you through the first week and maybe even the first two weeks, but once the normal busy schedule of your life returns or continues, you will be bogged down and possibly overwhelmed. The first thing that will go is that which you are not disciplined in. If you have been exercising for 20 minutes every other day at different times, just kinda, ya know, whenever you felt like it, you will soon stop “feeling” like it. It is the same with reading your Bible. If you do not have a disciplined system of reading, you will be more likely to give it up. I am a huge advocate for “just read”. Just read something from the Word every day. Now, this is assumed that you are on a reading plan. The point behind this is to combat the feeling that you need two hours free every day in order to read. No, just read! If you have 10 minutes, just read! 5 minutes? Just read! Two hours? By all means, read! However, I believe that the absolute best practice in reading your Bible is reading every day at the same time and in the same place (if possible). Be disciplined. Wake up early and read before you get ready for work or school. That, I believe, is the best time and place to read. There is no better way to begin your day—a day that will be filled with temptations from the father of lies—than in the Word of God, your double-edged sword of truth. So, when it is difficult to wake up, just do it and read! I feel like a repetitive and annoying Nike commercial when I encourage myself and my fiancé to wake up and read. When we struggle and complain, I will say, “Just do it. Just read.” I know that is overly simple. But that is exactly what we need. We need a simple encouragement and we need discipline. Discipline is saying, “Just do it…Just read”. I confess, I have failed this morning. I overslept. I took advantage of this mini-vacation that I am on from work and school. However, I will just read today. And tomorrow, I will not want to wake up early (but really…I hate waking up early). However, I will counsel myself with the clichéd phrase, “Just do it” and I will add, “Just read”. Throughout this year, discipline yourself to meditate on the glorious splendor of God in his Word. Wake early. Read. Repeat.

2. Read with a Friend

Too often, we attempt to accomplish our New Year resolutions on our own. This is, to be nice, usually futile. In our pride, we want to prove our resolve. We do not want to admit we need help of any kind! We can do it on our own! And then, we fail. It is so much easier when you are only accountable to yourself to stop eating healthy or working out. The same is true for Bible reading. If you are holding yourself accountable, anytime “yourself” wants to not read, “yourself” will be fine with that and there will be no rebuke. This was another problem for me in 2012. I didn’t read through the Bible because I had no one holding me accountable. That problem will not exist for me in 2013. My beautiful fiancé and I have resolved to hold each other accountable and use the same reading plan. We will be reading the same plan, so it will be easy for us to hold each other accountable. We will also turn this into an opportunity to do Bible study together and help each other grow in likeness to Christ. This year I will read through the Bible with my best friend who will become my wife on June 8th. It will benefit you to read with a friend. Husbands, is there anyone else to read with for you than your wife? If you question this, check out Ephesians 5:25-28, be humbled, and then get back with me. Singles, read with a friend and disciple one another for the glory of God.

3. Pray More (much more)

Is it possible to read through the Bible and completely miss the point? Absolutely. If you read the Bible with any preconceived notions, it is dangerous. If you read the Bible with the preconceived notion that life is about you and the Bible is about you and God’s salvation of you, then you are greatly mistaken. The Bible is about God and the self-exaltation of his name and the spread of his fame. God desires his glory to be praised and exalted and this is most fully realized in the cross of Christ where sinners are invited to take joy in the tremendous pleasure that God has in being God. Therefore, when we read, we must pray that God would reveal himself to us in his Word. We must pray for the Holy Spirit to give us understanding. Frustration will come as a result of our limited finite knowledge of the Holy One of Israel and his inscrutable ways. We must submit to the infallible truth of the Word of God and pray fervently for understanding. Jesus said it was good that he leave so that the Helper may come (John 16:7). And this Helper “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). I failed in my daily Bible reading and study in 2012 because I didn’t pray enough. I will pray more this year. Before I sleep, I will pray for the power of God to wake me and fill me with a desire to know him more. Before I read, I will pray for understanding. As I read, I will pray and praise God for who he is in what I am reading. Throughout the day I will thank God for his revelation of himself in his Word and continue to meditate on what I have read. I will do all of this by God’s grace, for I have seen what my own might can achieve—nothing. Instead of relying on your own power to read through the Word in 2013, rely on the power of the Holy Spirit—the same power which raised Christ Jesus from the dead and dwells within you (Rom. 8:11)!

Glorify God Through Reading in 2013

2013 is a new year filled with new opportunities. Make 2013 a year of exalting the glory of God’s grace through making disciples of all nations and growing in holiness. Do this through prayer and diligent and radical Bible reading/study. Take your Bible reading seriously. The God of this Bible is a God of holiness, goodness, kindness, love, wrath, justice, and righteousness. Take him seriously and take him at his Word. If you want this year to be the year that you are faithful to read through the Bible, I encourage you to be conscious of grace if you fail and understand that reading the Bible is a means of grace and not a means of merit. Fight the temptation to ignore God in his Word by being disciplined, reading with a friend, and praying more. May God be glorified in your reading of his Word this year as you become more like Christ Jesus.

“And we all, with unveiled face, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18